It was almost two years ago that I first came out in public. I am, and I have always been, bisexual. When I came out as autistic many years before, this had some impact on my professional life. I’d braced for the revelation of my queerness to exert a greater impact on my life, but somehow it didn’t happen. Still, until now, I’d lived at the periphery of the LGTBQ+ community.
The event took place all along Fayetteville Street, which is more or less Raleigh’s “Main Street”. It’s common for large public events to be held here. It’s in the heart of downtown, it’s relatively safe, and once the police barricade the streets it is very walkable.
Most people who meet me wouldn’t know on the surface that I’m autistic. I’ve been described as “eccentric”, and I’ll accept that. When it comes to big public events, it can be a crapshoot whether or not I can deal with it. So I sort of zip through the scene in one direction, and then back in the other. It’s just a quick scan, just to kind of suss out what’s going on. And then I tend to get into things deeper and deeper.
And it was early in the first pass that I saw a bunch of ladies adorned with glitter… on their faces, and on their breasts! They were here to have a great time, be fabulous, and maybe make a few bucks helping others to feel the same way. This was my first stop.
Since I was completely relieved of any burden of preconceptions of how to celebrate this event, I apparently requested something new. My head, which is completely shaved down, made a perfect canvas in my mind for a more comprehensive work of glitter art. We talked cost, arrived at a fair price, and the ladies went straight to work.
And what they did was a shimmering thing of beauty.
North Carolina can be a challenging place to live if you’re queer. Cities like Raleigh can be very welcoming, especially in and around The Gayborhood. It wasn’t that long ago that the state passed a law, HB2, compelling transgendered people to use the wrong bathroom. I really didn’t know what kind of protesters I might encounter at this event.
But I was pleasantly surprised. I immediately felt welcome, I felt accepted, and I didn’t feel like there was a right way to be queer to be accepted here. There were even a number of people wearing shirts like “FREE MOM HUGS” or, my favorite, “FREE BEAR HUGS”. And I definitely took advantage of those free hugs.
The protester presence was minimal. There were some fringe Christian elements on the corner, spewing hate speech over a megaphone. But a troupe of drag queens effectively shut them down by forming a stunning visual barrier and drowning out the sound with rhythmic clapping of folding fans.
There were many other religious organizations represented at this event, but most came as allies. While I don’t subscribe to the dogma, I appreciate them for reaching out and trying to make queer folk feel more welcome.
Did the stress of going to this big public event lead me into a cascading autistic shutdown event? No. Hell, no. I had quite a lot of fun. And I would have stayed longer if the weather had only been a little cooler.
As I tend to do, I took many photographs. Maybe you’ll enjoy them. And maybe you’ll make it out to your next local LGBTQ+ event.